While Consider the Fork is filled with delicious nuggets about the history of kitchen implements, some geeky gourmands are looking back to the future and revolutionizing the idea of exactly what we consider a kitchen tool.
Molecular gastronomy, the precision cooking that uses emulsification, gellification and other techniques to create tasty and stunningly beautiful dishes, is cutting-edge and is now beginning to take off among cooks who want to create tasty dishes that also have an entertainment factor. Imagine making chocolate spaghetti, mint caviar or balsamic vinegar pearls. Trendy restaurants now create "foam" made of beets or mushrooms and use them as art on created dishes. A kitchen tool to make these, Molecule-R, is already available for home kitchens, so this technology is not so much in the distant future as it is in the near future, and even in the now.
Of particular note for the future is MIT Media Lab's creation, The Cornucopia. This food system at its most basic involves the storing, mixing and subsequent "printing" (extrusion) of ingredients to create multiple dishes. There's the Digital Chocolatier, which allows users to design various kinds of chocolate desserts using a set of ingredients. Depending on the recipe created, the machine will mix and extrude the final element into a cup. These machines are also capable of rapid heating and cooling of food ingredients which allows for a much more intense taste than regular cooking can provide.
The Digital Fabricator uses similar principles to create many foods. Ingredients are stored in the fabricator and depending on the recipe, measured in precision quantities, mixed and then deposited in layers on a waiting pad below. Each layer deposited can be heated or cooled differentially creating interesting textures and tastes. Imagine making a lasagna this way!
Then there's the Robotic Chef which allows you to manipulate one food object - injecting vanilla, for instance, into just one spot in a banana or perhaps injecting some sugar syrup and then caramelizing just the top and end parts of a fruit.
The hallmark of these instruments is the marriage between digital fabrication (read precision in every area) and food. Incidentally, Cornell University already has a commercial food printer in the market, which is a simpler version of these machines. It essentially extrudes any material onto a plate or surface. The Cornell machine can use the "printer" to precision-frost a chocolate cupcake. No more shaky hands spoiling your designs!
Finally, imagine a refrigerator that checks out the food inside it, figures out what's low in stock and places a grocery order for you. This fridge of the future is in the works at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. This fridge would not only check inventory but also bring soon-to-expire foodstuff to the front of the shelves. So for fresh food, just as you do in the stores, you will have to reach way back!
This article was originally published in November 2012, and has been updated for the
October 2013 paperback release.
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